- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 22, 2013

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — The United States and several key allies sought Wednesday a strategy to end Syria’s civil war, their united efforts unable at the moment to stem the Assad regime’s military gains and Washington still unwilling to join those providing the rebels with lethal military aid.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry allowed that President Obama won’t send American troops to Syria, but he made clear that more aid to the rebels would be coming if the regime refuses to cooperate with an international effort — to be put together in June in Geneva — to form a transitional government.

“In the event that we can’t find that way forward, in the event that the Assad regime is unwilling to negotiate in Geneva in good faith, we will also talk about our continued support, growing support for opposition in order to permit them to continue to fight for the freedom of their country,” Mr. Kerry said.

Mr. Obama “has also made it clear that he intends to support the broad-based opposition, and he has taken no options off the table with respect to how that support may be provided, or what kind of support that might be,” Mr. Kerry told a news conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh before a meeting between Mr. Kerry and the foreign ministers of 10 close American partners.

Wednesday’s meeting comes after several weeks of military gains by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, including the reopening of a key southern highway to Jordan and a push into a strategic rebel-held western town over the weekend.

Such successes likely will harden Mr. Assad’s position in any peace talks. The Syrian leader has said that he will not step down as a result of transition talks and that Syria’s political future must be determined in elections.

Mr. Kerry and the other top diplomats met behind closed doors for more than two hours Wednesday evening in Amman to discuss how to change the momentum.

A Jordanian-based Western diplomat, who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said the Assad regime was proving more resilient than expected. His government, he said, was concluding that the rebels might not be able to defeat the regime without greater and more direct assistance.

Some of that new resilience in the Syrian regime comes from help from Iran and the militant Hezbollah movement.

Mr. Kerry warned those regime allies to stop providing assistance to Mr. Assad and said such activity “perpetuates the regime’s campaign of terror against its own people.”

“We have to hope that Bashar Assad and his regime will understand the meaning of that and the Iranians and others will understand the meaning of that,” Mr. Kerry said. “The president will keep those options available to him short of American forces on ground.”

To that end, an administration official in Washington said the White House soon would notify Congress about an expanded package of nonlethal assistance to the Syrian rebels.

Details of the aid package are still being finalized, according to the official, who was not authorized to discuss the expanded aid publicly and insisted on anonymity.

But the package is likely to include armored vehicles and communications gear, two U.S. officials said. It is not expected to include night-vision goggles or body armor, underscoring the cautious approach the U.S. has taken regarding military-style assistance to the opposition.

As Mr. Kerry and his counterparts arrived at the meeting venue in Amman, about 250 pro-Assad demonstrators blocked the main entrance.

Story Continues →